Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report for Aug. 2 – 8

Stars shine brightly over Quail Creek Reservoir, Quail Creek State Park, Utah, May 26, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Mike Seamisch, St. George News

Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report
John Mosley

Aug. 2 – 8

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to [email protected]

All three planets that are visible tonight are in the evening sky. These are Venus, Saturn and Jupiter.

Venus is brilliant low in the west for the hour after sunset where it shines far brighter than any star. You can see Venus well before sunset if you know precisely where to look, and it is so bright you can follow in right down to the horizon. I always enjoy watching it set behind distant hills with a telescope, and to make it more fun imagine that the horizon is rising up to meet it, which is the truth.

If you were on Venus the earth would have a similar gibbous phase as Venus does to us, and the earth would appear half as bright – because the earth has fewer clouds and so is only half as reflective as Venus.

Venus will be in the evening sky the rest of the year, slowly setting later each night and in the fall appearing against a darker sky.

Mercury is making an evening appearance later this month and we’ll begin to see it to the lower right of Venus beginning in about two weeks for two weeks.

Bright Saturn rises by 9 p.m. and even brighter Jupiter follows an hour later, and they’re at their highest and in the south at around 3 a.m.

Late evening is the best time to see the Milky Way, visible to only 10% of the people who live in the United States due to light pollution. It’s our galaxy of several hundred billion stars, of which our sun is just one, and it wraps around the sky. The Milky Way’s center lies in the direction of Sagittarius, low in the south around 10 p.m., and that’s the Milky Way’s brightest and widest part – much more so than the opposite side which we see in winter. The word “galaxy” comes from both Greek and then Latin for “milky”. Be sure to examine it closely with a telescope or even binoculars on a dark night – you can spend many hours examining it in detail.

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower has begun. If you see an unusually fast meteor coming from the direction of the constellation Perseus, it’s probably an early Perseid meteor. The best days are the Aug. 9 through Aug. 13 with the peak on the night of the Aug. 11, and I’ll have much more on them next week.

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